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Hilton just opened the first points hotel in the Galapagos — and it has a restaurant in a lava tunnel

July 07, 2022
7 min read
villa up on hill behind green plants
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If you’ve ever wanted to experience one of the most distinct ecosystems on earth, look for Darwin’s famed eponymous finches or see a lazy but (probably) loving sea lion up close and personal, it’s time to book a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

To sweeten the trip, travelers can finally get there and stay there entirely on points and miles now that Hilton has opened the first points hotel in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.

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Renovations

Earlier this year, Hilton announced its plan to convert the Royal Palm Galapagos, a 21-room eco-friendly boutique hotel, into a Curio Collection by Hilton property.

That conversion is finally complete and the Hilton property is n

ow welcoming guests, including Hilton Honors members looking to cash in some points for a once-in-a-lifetime stay.

During the conversion process, the property underwent renovations to a handful of areas including the lobby, guest rooms, gym and dining areas. A new spa is expected to open by the end of the year alongside a refreshed pool in 2023.

While the renovations are exciting, it’s what the hotel, which originally opened back in 2000, was already doing that’ll make people want to make the journey to South America. It's also why Hilton wanted to get in on the Galapagos action.

Nature's wonderland

First, let’s start with the location. The hotel is on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz.

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Getting there is easy as there are direct flights from José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil and Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport (UIO) in Quito to Seymour Galapagos Ecological Airport (GPS) on Baltra.

From there, getting to Santa Cruz requires a water taxi or bus, but it’s all worth it when you get to the nearly 400-acre estate tucked away in the Miconia Highland forest next to Galapagos National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Related: You can get to the Galapagos on points and miles

Believe it or not, the hotel is actually in a valley between two extinct cinder cone volcanoes. If that’s not enough, there are craters, lava tunnels and seven other areas of geological interest to experience in the area.

(Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Luxury and sustainability

As for the hotel itself, guests should go in expecting a one-of-a-kind experience that’s the pinnacle of ecotourism and great hospitality.

Travelers can book a handful of accommodation types across the hotel’s 21 casitas and villas. Many of them include an indoor Jacuzzi or wet room and a front porch or terrace overlooking the gardens.

For a more luxury experience, book a larger Super Villa or even the two-bedroom Prince of Wales Super Villa, complete with an open fireplace and private garden, where Prince Charles and Camilla once stayed.

Looking at the hotel's flexible booking calendar, it appears that cash rates fluctuate from $255 a night upwards of $350 and higher, though most nights look to be closer to $285 for a king or double queen room.

A Standard Room Award night starts at 80,000 points. If you're looking for more space, Villas start at $352 or 138,000 points per night while the Prince of Wales Villa comes in at $687 per night or 268,000 points.

Unforgettable experiences

Outside of the rooms, guests have plenty to do on the property, including relaxing by the soon-to-be-finished pool, working out at the gym or hitting up the spa for a treatment (later this year).

For food, be sure to book the “extra immersive dining experience” at the fine dining restaurant located within one of the property’s lava tunnels — the only one of its kind.

The experience combines a “glimpse of the incredible forces that created the archipelago” with a tasting menu inspired by local culture and ingredients.

Meanwhile, the 50-seat Royal Palm Restaurant serves up Galapaguenian food alongside other international dishes above ground in the hotel (and under the stars when the weather is right).

(Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Although the hotel is truly amazing, it’s what’s out and about in nature that really draws folks to this destination — and the hotel is there to help with that.

Travelers can book special programs that allow guests to experience the best of the Galapagos by land and sea.

The itineraries allow for self-guided tours combined with boat excursions to see creatures like giant tortoises, sea lions, sea iguanas and blue-footed boobies. Other program options include all-inclusive experiences, guided tours and more.

Explore beyond the property

Other activities in the area, many of which can be organized by the hotel, include a bike ride to the Tortoise Ranch to spot a Galapagos giant tortoise.

Guests can also kayak around the coastline where boats are permitted, surf, snorkel through “volcanic crevices filled with warm, crystal-clear, emerald water” and visit Charles Darwin Research Station, the institute dedicated to protecting the natural wonders and biodiversity of the islands.

(Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Environmental strategies

For Hilton and Royal Palm, protecting the aforementioned natural wonders and biodiversity is a prime focus.

The hotel is the only one with a reforestation program for Miconia and the islands’ endemic Scalesia trees, as well as a rain harvesting program.

In fact, the hotel’s water reduction system collects and recycles rainwater and almost 90% of its residues while an on-site farm grows fresh, sustainable produce for the hotel’s restaurants.

The hotel also adheres to Hilton’s “global environmental, social and governance strategy,” Travel with Purpose, which aims to double the brand’s investment in social impact and cut its environmental footprint in half globally by 2030.

Meanwhile, the company’s philanthropic arm, the Hilton Effect Foundation, is partnering with local organizations to work on projects designed to protect native Ecuador fish species and to feed and protect the critically endangered Floreana tortoise.

Take a sabbatical

For folks who really, really want to lean into the beauty of the island, now through Dec. 31, the hotel is offering a special package called the Live Life sabbatical experience, that lets guests stay for 30 days to "reconnect with nature and discover the wonders of the Galapagos on a uniquely immersive journey."

During the stay, guests can choose one weekly experience that helps connect them to the island, like snorkeling at Las Grietas or visiting different ecological reserves.

For $25,000 it also includes a practical arrival amenity like a backpack or reusable water bottle, daily food and drink credit, use of a bike to get around, a dining experience at the lava tunnel restaurant, a yoga mat and meditation pillow and a donation in the guest's name to a local charity or organization.

Points and miles bucket list

For many, a trip to the Galapagos is a life-long dream. Now, that dream is one step closer to those of us who chase points and miles since we can finally book a stay with Hilton Honors points.

If you still need some points to make this incredible journey, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is currently offering the chance to earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Hilton)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees